Brush Strokes


The rich and powerful


Ancient character for 'fu'

Chinese netizens were shocked last week to read that the richest 70 members of their legislature, the National People’s Congress, were extremely ‘fu’ 富 or ‘wealthy’. They added more to their wealth last year than the total net worth of all 535 members of the United States Congress, the president, his Cabinet, and the nine Supreme Court justices combined, according to Bloomberg Business News.

Of course being members of the NPC makes them powerful too – so they are fuhao, 富豪­­­,or ‘the rich and powerful’.

The revelation that the net worth of the 70 richest delegates to the NPC, which opened on Monday in Beijing, rose by nearly Rmb73 billion ($11.5 billion) last year, quickly spread on Sina Weibo – only to be erased, with the authorities apparently nervous about the impact of the information.

The richest 70 NPC members’ wealth easily trumps the $7.5 billion net worth of all 660 top officials in the three branches of the US government, Bloomberg reported. By comparison the 70 NPC members are worth $89.8 billion. That might seem a bit skewed: per capita annual income in China in 2010 was $2,425, a fraction of the $37,527 in the US.

Bloomberg used publicly available information from Rupert Hoogewerf’s Shanghai-based Hurun Report and data from the Washington DC-based Centre for Responsive Politics to draw the comparison.

The original pictogram of fu, 富,shows a roof, underneath which is a wine flask, indicating that where wine was in plenty so was money, according to Li Leyi’s Tracing the Roots of Chinese Characters. With tycoons today busy snapping up expensive red wine, that’s easy to understand. Later the character evolved: under the ‘roof’ were instead placed 高 (high) and 田 (field), suggestive of amassing land then wealth.

Hao, 豪,is a curious character: according to Richard Sears’ website,, the top part is derived from the character gao, 高, and gives the character its sound (it’s a “productive phonetic”), while the lower half, shi, 豕, means pig. While it’s tempting to joke that perhaps a person who is powerful is a “top pig,” with pigs in China an important part of daily life and also symbolising wealth, that wouldn’t be correct, and we probably need to accept that the origin of the pig in this character may be obscure.

The term fuhao is synonomous with ‘tycoon’.

Fu-Jinwen w

Oracle bone Fu

Fuhao (rich and powerful)

Fuhao (rich and powerful)

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